Before the start of the 2021-22 NHL season, I set out to make three bold Colorado Avalanche predictions for the upcoming year, hoping to flaunt my ironclad prognostication skills. As we creep up on the halfway point of the season, I thought it could be a fun exercise to look back on said predictions, and evaluate how well they are holding up thus far. Do I have a future as an all-seeing oracle, or should I leave the forecasting to the experts – let’s dig in.
Prediction Number One: Jared Bednar Is Fired
This prediction was made with the Colorado Avalanche‘s fate in the 2022 Playoffs in mind, as anything less than a berth in the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2001 could be considered a failure.
Luckily for head coach Jared Bednar, his team’s performance through the first half of the season provides him with a bit of a cushion. Despite playing fewer games than their nearest competitors, Colorado occupies first place in both the Central Division and Western Conference standings, and is tied for the league lead in points percentage (.750). Their 4.16 goals per-60-minutes ranks first in the NHL, and they remain a strong possession team at 5v5, chugging along even without acknowledging the input of their vaunted power play.
After struggling to start the season (11th in points percentage at the beginning of December) due to injuries and COVID-related absences, the Avalanche have since looked like the Presidents’ Trophy-winning outfit of last year. Since December 2nd, the Avalanche lead the NHL in points (34), points percentage (.895), and have won 16 of their last 19 games over that span. Their schedule for January looked weaker than normal, and they’ve emphatically capitalized on the opportunity to make up ground in the standings.
Simply put, the team appears unstoppable, and Bednar can feel confident in the team’s chances to finally slay their postseason demons. The Central Division holds several solid, but unspectacular squads, giving Colorado a fairly easy pathway to the third round if they can claim the division title, so this prediction is bumbling around on wobbly legs.
Prediction Number Two: The Avalanche Break Their Franchise Wins Record
After Colorado’s turbulent start to the season, this prediction seemed to be in dire straits. However, the hot start to 2022 has ramped up the pace, putting the Avalanche well on track to eclipse their franchise record of 52 wins set in the 2000-01 season, coincidentally the last time the franchise won the Stanley Cup.
After 38 games, the team owns a sterling 27-8-3 record, good for 57 points on the season. Colorado has built up a bit of a cushion, now only requiring 26 wins in the final 44 games to set a new organizational benchmark. If they maintain their current pace for points percentage, they can likely eclipse 120 points on the season, setting another franchise record in the process.
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The only reason that this record still stands is that last year’s Avalanche squad was capped at 56 total games, of which they won 39 en route to the 2020-21 Presidents’ Trophy. Their win percentage (70%) represented a 57-win pace over a full 82-game campaign, and it’s a near certainty that they could have emerged victorious in at least 14 of their final 26 games to set a new record.
It’s only fair to note that the post-lockout iterations of the Avalanche benefit from the implementation of the shootout to resolve ties after the mandatory overtime period. The 2000-01 edition finished with 10 ties on the year, so it’s safe to assume they could have added several additional wins to their tally if it were possible. Still, the predictions racket is a results-based business, and I’m fully prepared to claim this one as a victory when the time comes.
Prediction Number Three: Alex Newhook Wins the Calder Trophy
Like my second prediction, this prophecy looked to be in jeopardy early on, with Alex Newhook being demoted to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Colorado Eagles to start the season. After tallying 11 points in 10 minor-league games and demonstrating a more professional level of dedication, he earned a call-up to the Avalanche. Now, Newhook is now tied for fifth in rookie goalscoring (eight), and tenth in total points (13) in 29 games this season.
Still, it appears as though Lucas Raymond of the Detroit Red Wings (32 points in 40 games) and Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks (29 in 36) have a stranglehold on the 2021-22 Calder Trophy race. Both feature in much more prominent roles given the competitive status of their respective clubs, offering them greater opportunities for offensive production. Newhook is still hanging around in the conversation, but he has too much ground to make up with only half a season remaining.
It’s forgivable, given he’s being given his first extended look in the NHL, but Newhook has struggled slightly with ensuring his defensive responsibilities are being fulfilled in tandem with his scoring duties. He’s treading water in most possession metrics at just below 50%, but his high-danger chance ratio of only 42% is particularly eye-catching. He’s not the first young player to need more time to find his feet and acclimate, and he won’t be the last.
At 5v5, Newhook’s most common linemates have been Nicolas Aube-Kubel (160 minutes) and Logan O’Connor (119 minutes), meaning he hasn’t been given the green light to flex his offensive muscles at even strength. Bednar has used Newhook in spot duty on the power play (11th among regular skaters in average ice-time), but that still represents limited usage. Unless the Avalanche experience another rash of injuries (knock on wood) that rapidly elevate Newhook further up the lineup, the Calder Trophy is likely out of reach for the still promising forward.
While receiving recognition through individual hardware is always a welcome possibility, winning the Stanley Cup is Newhook’s (and the Avalanche’s) ultimate goal this season. No, I’m not bitter about another prediction falling flat, why do you ask?
Are the Avalanche Predictions Making the Grade?
Overall, it looks as though one prediction is approaching lock status while the remaining pair are teetering on the edge of uncertainty. I’m not willing to concede defeat just yet but the winds are clearly blowing in a particular direction, especially on the Newhook for Calder front. With more than half of the season remaining, the book isn’t closed on any of the three predictions. Check back in at the end of the season to collectively praise (or mock) my prognostication skills – enjoy the second half of 2021-22!
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Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.